There seems to have been a resurgence of discussion of all things feminist recently, from the online campaigns of #everydaysexism, the attempts to outlaw Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practises[i], to the increasing voices of dissent among young female audiences, in blogs more generally[ii] or specifically fed up with male dominated cinema. I’m not sure if we are labeling this as a new wave, or movement but it seemed wholly pertinent when Alison Loader and Amy Ratelle suggested this theme for the blog.
In the same week that my Society for Animation Studies colleagues were enjoying the annual conference in Toronto (and getting a bit heated about some of the issues coming out of the gender and animation panel discussion), a blog post appeared to try to address some of the missing elements of animation history. “The Mary Sue” posted a list of pioneers in the field, and though she doesn’t explicitly mention Jayne Pilling’s excellent edited collection “Women & Animation: A Compendium” (1992),[iii] it does attempt to highlight and reinforce some of the forgotten, or generally ignored women in animation history as Pilling had done previously.
Another Internet article got me thinking a couple of weeks later. Over on “Flavorwire” there was a compilation of “50 Essential feminist films”. I dutifully read the whole post and realized several things…I had heard of some of these films, maybe even seen a couple (confession – I don’t get to see as much as I should), but there were many, many films which I had no idea even existed. Oh and only one was animated. Now this is where some of the theory gets tricky – to be included in this type of list, or indeed contribute to ‘feminist theory’ do these films simply need to deal with ‘womens issues’ or be made by women? There are several here included by male directors with explanations of their treatment and consideration of women so apparently the former, but is there really only one animated film which can qualify?
If we changed the approach and looked at film ‘made by’ women would there have been some animation? Are there any animated films which are “about feminism”? Again turning to Pilling’s seminal collection, we can find that the answer is yes to both (look at the work of Suzan Pitt, Candy Guard, Marjut Rimminen, Joanna Quinn and many, many more), however are they simply being relegated to ‘lower status’ like other animated films below live action, despite what many of the essays in Karen Beckman’s excellent new edited collection tell us? [iv]
Another telling point about the list was the indie status of most of them (which also connects to some of the pioneers on the Mary Sue blog). We know that limited distribution will have an effect on audience access and as such the concentration of these films at festivals will undoubtedly limit the audience (and perhaps give me an excuse for not seeing them). And of course animation festivals are generally separate affairs from live action and as such the pool of potential audience may be reduced further. So the issue perhaps becomes less about who makes the film and its content, and more about who has the money to reach mainstream audiences? The two most commercial films on the Flavorwire article, Clueless and 9 to 5 were comedies, and as such can perhaps address a wider audience? (There’s no room here to discuss the potential for subversion in comedy and opportunity to address the political in a hidden sense, and there is much, much more that could be said about each of those films).
The complexities then of genre, marketing and money in a dominant studio setting muddies the feminist waters, but certainly reinforces the male dominance of these industrial practices. If more women made more films, and more women worked in higher industrial positions maybe these lists wouldn’t be required, or at the very least the films on them would be more accessible/available?
Or maybe I’m just a bit lazy about seeking these films out and if I were a ‘better’ feminist then I would have already found them…but then why should films about and by half of the population need work to find them?
I invite readers to contribute to creating our own list of must see films…they can either be by, about or for women…I bet there are a few…
Please feel free to comment.
[iii] Jayne Pilling (Ed.) (1992) Women & Animation: A Compendium, BFI Publishing.
[iv] Karen Beckman (Ed.) (2014) Animating Film Theory, Duke University Press
Dr Nichola Dobson is based in Edinburgh, lecturing part time at Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh. Founding editor of Animation Studies from 2006 until 2011 and founding editor of Animation Studies 2.0 since its inception in March 2013. She has published on both animation studies and television, most recently The A to Z of Animation and Cartoons (2010) and Historical Dictionary of Animation and Cartoons (2009) for Scarecrow Press. She has published in anthologies on Crime Scene Investigation and Life on Mars as well as shorter works for the online journal FLOW. She is currently working on a book on TV animation with Paul Ward for Edinburgh University Press and has just finished a book on Scottish animator Norman McLaren. She began a new role as Vice President of the Society for Animation Studies in autumn 2011.